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Four cases of Legionnaire’s disease have been confirmed in WV by the Hancock County Health Department (HCHD). The HCHD is actively searching for the source of the infection but has not yet announced a source or a list of suspects. The Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort has closed the Thoroughbred racetrack, according to the Daily Racing Forum, the closure is in response to one of their staff being infected with Legionnaires’ disease. Live Thoroughbred racing will resume Nov 7, after the track has made “improvements.” Here’s what you need to know about the Hancock County Legionnaires Outbreak.
Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia which can be contracted by inhaling water droplets inhabited by the bacteria called Legionella pneumophila. Legionnaires’ does not generally spread person to person, which means that outbreaks must come from exposure to some external source. Health departments must interview those sickened to determine commonalities. It’s not unlike a murder mystery, as the investigators must find links between different people’s lives; where they live, work, or have visited in the recent past.
Jackie Huff, HCHD health administrator, confirmed that the Mountaneer is one of the places being investigated, but did not identify any of the others. Jana Tetrault, executive director of the Mountaineer Park Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (MPHBPA) stated they received a notice Oct 27 informing them of a “safety review” of the clubhouse and grandstand areas. Training and horse care will continue per usual on the track.
Legionnaires’ disease, despite the ancient name evoking red plumes and sandals, was discovered and named by the CDC in 1976. The disease made its debut at an American Legion convention, where caused 200 people, mostly men, to be hospitalized within a week. Of those, 34 died. The disease comes from inhaling legionella pneumophila into your lungs. The air conditioning system in the hotel was originally believed to be what spread the disease, but additional evidence indicates it may have been spread by the water in the hotel.
Being a bacterium, legionella pneumophila thrives in warm standing water, making it a hazard of complex modern plumbing systems. Legionella pneumophila can be found anywhere, but typically only infects people who breathe in or aspirate contaminated mist, vapor, or water. Aspiration is when you choke in such a way that spittle or water goes “down the wrong pipe” and goes into your lungs instead of taking your esophagus down to your stomach where the bacteria in your gut and your stomach acid deal with intruders. It is also technically possible to get Legionnaires’ from working in contaminated soil.
This mode of infection understandably complicates a health department’s investigation; their search must be broad and thorough because Legionnaires’ can be deadly. The closure of the Mountaineer Racetrack is a wise precaution to prevent the spread of the disease. The time can be taken to thoroughly clean and inspect the water systems to ensure the health of all who visit the park.
Legionella bacteria can be spread by water systems, air conditioning systems, sprinkler systems, produce sprinklers, humidifiers, hot tubs, choking in the shower, or any other complex water system which has not been properly cleaned and disinfected.
An estimated 10,000 to 18,000 of people in the United States become infected by the Legionella pneumophila bacteria each year. According to the CDC, 1 in 10 people who contract legionnaires’ die.
According to the CDC, symptoms typically first appear 2 to 10 days after exposure to Legionella bacteria. The people most at risk are people over age 50, cancer patients, people with chronic lung disease like COPD or emphysema, current or past smokers, or people with underlying illnesses which wear away at the body’s general ability to cope. The most common risk factor is heavy cigarette smoking, the most severe is organ transplant because the medicines which protect the new organ also make the body vulnerable to bacteria. It is very important to catch Legionnaires’ as early as possible, especially if you or a loved one are in a high-risk category.
If you or someone you know live in or have visited Hancock County, WV, or the Mountaineer Racetrack, in recent weeks, pay close attention if they start to exhibit the following symptoms:
Then the symptoms may progress by the second or third day to include symptoms such as:
Symptoms may also include confusion or mental changes.
The Mayo Clinic notes that occasionally Legionnaires’ can cause infections in wounds and in other parts of the body like the heart. The mild form of Legionnaire’s disease is known as Pontiac fever. Pontiac fever doesn’t infect your lungs, but includes symptoms like fever, chills, headache and muscle aches.
Legionnaire’s disease must be diagnosed by a doctor, and if left untreated can lead to lethal complications such as:
The good news is that Legionnaires’ disease can be treated by antibiotics, and in most cases, treatment is successful. In the rare even that an otherwise healthy person contracts Legionnaires’, they are still likely to need hospitalization to recover, admission to intensive care is also common. The disease can also be difficult to eradicate entirely, survivors may show persistent symptoms of fatigue, as well as neurological or muscular issues in the months after an outbreak. Most patients will recover entirely within a year.
There is no vaccine available for Legionnaires’ disease. The single biggest preventative measure is to stop smoking. Smokers and people who have had lung disease have a dysfunctional aspiration prevention mechanism, which puts them at a higher risk of inhaling Legionella pneumophila into their lungs. When traveling, look for accommodations that look clean and well maintained. If you or a loved one inhale water, then fall sick within a couple days, pay attention. If the symptoms progress or persist, go see a doctor for testing. For further prevention, if you or a loved one need a nursing home or long-term care, make sure to look for reputable long-term care homes and nursing homes which are well maintained and follow meticulous cleaning and disinfection procedures for their pools and spas.
If you believe you have developed Legionnaires’ disease, we want you to know that a Legionnaires’ Lawyer at the Lange Law Firm, PLLC is currently investigating this matter and offering free legal consultations. Our lawyer, Jory Lange became a lawyer to help make our communities and families safer.
If you or a loved one have become ill with Legionnaires’ disease, you can call (833) 330-3663 for a free consultation or complete the form here.
By: Abigail Cossette Ryan, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)